Piling On: The New York Times and Israel

In last week's run-up to the U.N. General Assembly theatre of the absurd, The New York Times could hardly restrain itself.  Fulminating about what was best for Israel, it repeatedly berated the Jewish state and Prime Minister Netanyahu for not acceding to its editor's wishes.

The fusillade began on September 11.  The Times graciously conceded that Israel and the Palestinian Authority shared blame for the breakdown in peace talks.  But "we put the greater onus" on Prime Minister Netanyahu, "who has used any excuse to thwart peace efforts."

Netanyahu's acceptance last year of the Palestinian demand for a ten-month settlement freeze was ignored.  The Palestinian Authority responded by refusing to negotiate.  With time expiring, it demanded a three-month extension -- which Netanyahu, once burned, wisely refused.  Nonetheless, the Times editorial praised the "moderate" Palestinian leadership and called upon Congress to "lean on" Netanyahu.

Another critical editorial followed three days later.  Referring to the special election in a heavily Jewish New York district in which a congressional seat held by Democrats for nearly a century went Republican, the Times rejected any notion that the stunning result marked a repudiation of President Obama's strong-arming of Israel.

The president's support for the Jewish state, the editorial blithely asserted, "has never wavered."  Yet Netanyahu, the Times's favorite piñata, was likely to read the election as support for his own intransigent refusal to compromise with the Palestinians, thereby disregarding "Israel's own security."  The "intractable" prime minister, after all, had been busy "building settlements."  If only.  Such temerity: Jews living in their ancient homeland!

Four days later, in the Sunday Review section, the Times reprinted a September 13 letter from Seymour D. Reich blaming Netanyahu for rebuffing President Obama's "peace" proposal that Israel negotiate based on its 1967 borders.  To be sure, those "Auschwitz" borders, as Abba Eban memorably labeled them, had left Israel vulnerable to Arab attacks ever since Israel declared independence in 1948.

Mr. Reich had all the answers that were fit to print.  Netanyahu "must step back from the brink."  He must stop "placating" his right-wing government and, instead, dissolve it.  He must freeze settlement construction.  Mr. Reich's favorite reader's response, understandably, praised the "uncomfortable truths" critical of Israel that Reich had presented.  It came (all too predictably) from an Ivy League professor of the history of Judaism.  The Times loves nothing more than Jewish critics of Israel.

It was left to Thomas Friedman, several pages along, to share his great concern for "Israel's future."  Anyone familiar with his Middle East reporting since the Times sent him to Beirut in 1982 knew what that meant: a rant against "the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent government in Israel's history," led by a prime minister who gives Israel's friends -- namely President Obama -- "nothing to defend it with."

Several days later, the Times provided former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with a forum to lend Israeli credibility to the Times critique.  Back in 2008, Olmert had embraced Palestinian demands, only to have his capitulation ignored by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

The morning before Netanyahu and Abbas would address the General Assembly, Times editors weighed in yet again.  Conceding that "there is plenty of blame to go around" for the current stalemate, "the main responsibility" -- no surprise -- belonged to Netanyahu.  He "refuses to make any serious compromises for peace" -- the peace, of course, that Palestinians have steadfastly rejected ever since 1947.

Veteran Times watchers had every reason to expect this onslaught.  It is the current manifestation of the Times's abiding Jewish problem.  It has been evident ever since founding publisher Adolph Ochs and his Sulzberger successors trembled with apprehension lest their newspaper be branded as the "Jew York Times."

Bending over backward to avoid any Jewish identification, the Times found itself on the wrong side of every major Jewish issue.  During the vicious Arab riots in Palestine in 1929, the slaughter of Jews provoked Times articles as hostile to Zionists as they were indifferent to Jewish victims.  Joseph Levy, its correspondent on the scene, was an American Jew who had spent years in Beirut before coming to Jerusalem.  He conceded that if his efforts toppled the Zionist administration, so much the better.  Sound familiar?

The Nazi slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust was consigned to the inner pages, competing for space with stories of hijacked truckloads of coffee in New Jersey.  Verified descriptions of Auschwitz did not make the front page.

The very idea of a Jewish state, to say nothing of its reality, left Times editors acutely uncomfortable in 1948 and thereafter.  Ever since the Six-Day War, the Times has been unrelenting in its criticism of Jewish settlements.  It enthusiastically endorsed President Obama's assertion that truncated Israeli borders are "vital to defusing Muslim anger at the West" -- a dubious claim with dire consequences for Israel.

The familiar Times motto -- "All the News That's Fit to Print" -- requires an update to "All the Criticism of Israel That Fits We Print."

Jerold S. Auerbach is professor emeritus of History at Wellesley College.  His blog is www.jacobsvoice.tumblr.com.

In last week's run-up to the U.N. General Assembly theatre of the absurd, The New York Times could hardly restrain itself.  Fulminating about what was best for Israel, it repeatedly berated the Jewish state and Prime Minister Netanyahu for not acceding to its editor's wishes.

The fusillade began on September 11.  The Times graciously conceded that Israel and the Palestinian Authority shared blame for the breakdown in peace talks.  But "we put the greater onus" on Prime Minister Netanyahu, "who has used any excuse to thwart peace efforts."

Netanyahu's acceptance last year of the Palestinian demand for a ten-month settlement freeze was ignored.  The Palestinian Authority responded by refusing to negotiate.  With time expiring, it demanded a three-month extension -- which Netanyahu, once burned, wisely refused.  Nonetheless, the Times editorial praised the "moderate" Palestinian leadership and called upon Congress to "lean on" Netanyahu.

Another critical editorial followed three days later.  Referring to the special election in a heavily Jewish New York district in which a congressional seat held by Democrats for nearly a century went Republican, the Times rejected any notion that the stunning result marked a repudiation of President Obama's strong-arming of Israel.

The president's support for the Jewish state, the editorial blithely asserted, "has never wavered."  Yet Netanyahu, the Times's favorite piñata, was likely to read the election as support for his own intransigent refusal to compromise with the Palestinians, thereby disregarding "Israel's own security."  The "intractable" prime minister, after all, had been busy "building settlements."  If only.  Such temerity: Jews living in their ancient homeland!

Four days later, in the Sunday Review section, the Times reprinted a September 13 letter from Seymour D. Reich blaming Netanyahu for rebuffing President Obama's "peace" proposal that Israel negotiate based on its 1967 borders.  To be sure, those "Auschwitz" borders, as Abba Eban memorably labeled them, had left Israel vulnerable to Arab attacks ever since Israel declared independence in 1948.

Mr. Reich had all the answers that were fit to print.  Netanyahu "must step back from the brink."  He must stop "placating" his right-wing government and, instead, dissolve it.  He must freeze settlement construction.  Mr. Reich's favorite reader's response, understandably, praised the "uncomfortable truths" critical of Israel that Reich had presented.  It came (all too predictably) from an Ivy League professor of the history of Judaism.  The Times loves nothing more than Jewish critics of Israel.

It was left to Thomas Friedman, several pages along, to share his great concern for "Israel's future."  Anyone familiar with his Middle East reporting since the Times sent him to Beirut in 1982 knew what that meant: a rant against "the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent government in Israel's history," led by a prime minister who gives Israel's friends -- namely President Obama -- "nothing to defend it with."

Several days later, the Times provided former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with a forum to lend Israeli credibility to the Times critique.  Back in 2008, Olmert had embraced Palestinian demands, only to have his capitulation ignored by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

The morning before Netanyahu and Abbas would address the General Assembly, Times editors weighed in yet again.  Conceding that "there is plenty of blame to go around" for the current stalemate, "the main responsibility" -- no surprise -- belonged to Netanyahu.  He "refuses to make any serious compromises for peace" -- the peace, of course, that Palestinians have steadfastly rejected ever since 1947.

Veteran Times watchers had every reason to expect this onslaught.  It is the current manifestation of the Times's abiding Jewish problem.  It has been evident ever since founding publisher Adolph Ochs and his Sulzberger successors trembled with apprehension lest their newspaper be branded as the "Jew York Times."

Bending over backward to avoid any Jewish identification, the Times found itself on the wrong side of every major Jewish issue.  During the vicious Arab riots in Palestine in 1929, the slaughter of Jews provoked Times articles as hostile to Zionists as they were indifferent to Jewish victims.  Joseph Levy, its correspondent on the scene, was an American Jew who had spent years in Beirut before coming to Jerusalem.  He conceded that if his efforts toppled the Zionist administration, so much the better.  Sound familiar?

The Nazi slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust was consigned to the inner pages, competing for space with stories of hijacked truckloads of coffee in New Jersey.  Verified descriptions of Auschwitz did not make the front page.

The very idea of a Jewish state, to say nothing of its reality, left Times editors acutely uncomfortable in 1948 and thereafter.  Ever since the Six-Day War, the Times has been unrelenting in its criticism of Jewish settlements.  It enthusiastically endorsed President Obama's assertion that truncated Israeli borders are "vital to defusing Muslim anger at the West" -- a dubious claim with dire consequences for Israel.

The familiar Times motto -- "All the News That's Fit to Print" -- requires an update to "All the Criticism of Israel That Fits We Print."

Jerold S. Auerbach is professor emeritus of History at Wellesley College.  His blog is www.jacobsvoice.tumblr.com.